The July 2 international signing period opened on Sunday, and as we predicted back in May, the Padres have been plenty busy. According to Baseball America, they’ve already signed 22 prospects from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, and Australia. Unlike last year, however, they can’t go past $300,000 on any player this year (Mexican loophole notwithstanding), so the strategy this time around has been quantity over quality.
According to the BA’s signing tracker, here are the number of signings by each team so far:
There are the Padres, third in all of baseball, only a few signings behind the pace-setting Astros and Dodgers, two more teams under spending restrictions. San Diego has already inked 14 more players than the average team. As we noted previously, when discussing the 57 signings the Yankees made in 2015, it’s not particularly surprising:
Teams like the Yankees (and now Padres) that are heavily invested in the international game, spending gobs of money one year, are probably more familiar with the next class of international free agents than teams that don’t devote as many resources to foreign scouting. It’s easy to just continue signing players in the year following a spending spree, with the $300,000 limit only narrowing the potential market. There’s a good shot that the Padres, given their deep roots in Latin America, follow a similar path, using the next two years to stockpile young, high upside players.
The expensive players—the ones out of the Padres range this year—have better shots of becoming good prospects and productive major leaguers, of course, but this is still something of an educated guessing game. It’s an almost impossibly difficult task to scout 15- and 16-year-old players who aren’t even finished growing yet. The Padres are probably as good at it as any other team, so it’s encouraging that they’re keeping the pedal to the floor internationally. They could have taken a step back this year and nobody would have criticized them, but it’s clear this regime is hell-bent on finding talented baseball players whenever the opportunity presents itself.
There were a couple of other interesting storylines from the first few days of the new J-2 period. The Padres signed five players from Mexico, which might not seem like many until you realize that only 10 players from Mexico have signed total. As Padres Jagoff has noted, a couple of the major Mexican loophole candidates have already signed elsewhere, but the San Diego did sign Manuel Partida, a left-handed pitcher, for $350,000. It’s possible that the Padres have simply shifted some scouting emphasis to Mexico, since it’s not as heavily trafficked as somewhere like the Dominican Republic, where every team has a baseball academy and a good sense of the talent pool.
The Padres have also signed 10 players from Venezuela, third-most in the league. In recent years there have been a number of articles about baseball talent potentially drying up in Venezuela due to economic/political unrest in the country. The current situation is so bad that players and families asked BA’s Ben Badler not to post signing bonus figures. This year, however, there were 24 players from Venezuela on BA’s top 50 (compared to just 17 from the Dominican Republic). And overall there have been 94 players signed from Venezuela, just 25 fewer than the prospect rich Dominican Republic. It’s clear that developing good baseball players isn’t yet a problem for a country with far greater concerns.
Like with Mexico, it’s interesting that the Padres have been so active in Venezuela. Few teams have academies in the country currently (the Padres don’t), and the number of stateside scouts and team officials that travel to the country continues to shrink. Instead of focusing on the Dominican Republic, the Padres have shifted to countries like Mexico and Venezuela, where bargains can be found for a variety of reasons. So far this year they’re third in MLB, behind only the Blue Jays and Red Sox, with 77 percent of their signings coming from non-DR countries.
This signing period remains open until next June, so don’t expect the Padres to slow down just yet. They have already spent $1.85 million on just six reported signings, and in reality that total is significantly higher. The Padres do have to stay within their $5.75 million bonus pool, unless they trade for more cap dollars, but there are still plenty of under-the-radar players out there for a team that’s always searching for them.